Let’s call a spade a spade, and when it comes to chicken…the El Aljibe restaurant’s secret sauce is a mystery for even the most discerning connoisseur; at this little piece of countryside in the heart of residential Havana, it makes the difference between a delicious chicken meal and a veritable culinary treasure….
El Aljibe’s chicken is part of a fraternity of hospitality to which other Cuban legacies belong, such as the Floridita daiquiri. You could search for its aroma and taste on other menus, but the real “chicken al Aljibe,” the one that has enthralled major politicians, inspired poets and musicians, and feted champions, can only be found at this outdoor restaurant, or ranchón, which has reigned in the Miramar district for the last 20 years.
With a history as rich as its menu, El Aljibe is proud of its simplicity; its only sophistication lies in its excellent service and its desire for diners to come and discover everyday gourmet cuisine: home-cooked goodness from Cuba’s countryside. Roast chicken with white rice and “sleepy” black beans, salad, and tuber vegetables, served in generous helpings for eating like there’s no tomorrow….
Apart from El Aljibe’s staff, nobody knows what kind of wonderful alchemy is behind its chicken recipe, giving it a taste like no other…. The most seasoned palates can identify garlic and sour orange, but the other ingredients that make this chicken unique are still a mystery to foodies who vainly try to uncover the best-kept secret of the heirs of brothers Pepe and Sergio García, the founders of this tradition.
It all started in 1946 on a farm near the town of Wajay, where the García brothers rented a restaurant with the idea of serving authentic Cuban food. Above all, they wanted to offer the traditional Sunday meal, and to achieve that home-cooked taste, they used their grandmother’s recipe for a special sauce that began winning them customers and renown. Soon they opened another restaurant called Rancho Luna and it was so successful that in 1959 they opened another in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood.
After the revolutionary victory, Rancho Luna became the property of the State and the Garcías devoted themselves to other activities until 1991, when the idea emerged of recuperating that site, which inevitably had continued in the heart of the family. Sergio was called upon to direct the new Aljibe, and in August 1993, the aroma of Cuba’s tastiest roast chicken began wafting through Havana again: its reign was beginning anew….
Hard-working Sergio, who used to greet his regular customers with a cordial “mesié,” has passed away but his spirit remains in the professionalism that he bequeathed to his heirs and which is palpable at El Aljibe, together with the unmistakable aromas of its kitchen. Twenty years may have been nothing to Gardel, but in a place where the senses rejoice—especially taste—the melancholy of the tango does not have much meaning. And moreover, El Aljibe is Cuba….
Photos: Alain L. Gutiérrez